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Strange Times 187: Three Butcher Knives
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The second episode of I’ll Watch Anything, the film podcast critics are already calling “a film podcast,” is live! Listen to it on Apple, Spotify, Google and elsewhere. In this installment we subject ourselves to the absolutely ludicrous 1987 slasher Blood Harvest, a movie that is both extremely badly made and extremely fun to watch. Listen, subscribe, and tell friends and enemies alike to do the same.
Today brings mischief à la Parisienne. Escape from prison and then double back on…
July 6, 1921
In Rome, a memorial to Italian war dead turns violent when shots are fired, apparently from the local Socialist Club, which is quickly besieged by an angry Fascist mob.
Convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to life imprisonment in West Virginia, Tony Gradiscen dies after embarking on a hunger strike to protest his sentence.
The defense attorneys for Mrs. Kaber, accused of murdering her husband, succeed in removing all women from the jury pool.
Scientists succeed in restoring sight to blinded frogs, rats and fish using transplanted eyeballs.
Emissaries from the religious community in Zion, Illionis return from a five month journey to New York City, of whose citizens they say, “All they think of is pleasure, money, movies and dancing. They are dancing all the time.”
The Weather: Fair today, Thursday fair and wawrmer; moderate southeast and south winds.
I love the subhed’s confident declaration that this is a “new” form of extortion. This may not be the oldest trick in the book but it’s on, like, page five. Or perhaps the difference is that in American saloons dancers would just lure their marks into a back room, drug them or blackjack them and steal their shit?
PARIS, July 5.—Montmarte girls are working a new game on American tourists. When some one asks them to dance in the night restaurants, they leave their handbags and gold cigarette cases and other valuables on the table. While dancing, the girl’s confederate abstracts the valuables and the girl later accuses the tourist she has danced with of stealing her property. A loud and wordy row follows. Waiters order policemen to take the tourist to the station house to search him.
Usually the tourist, not speaking French—maybe with his wife at a hotel awaiting him—and fearing trouble and scandal, capitulates and pays the amount asked for the lost property. Dozens of such affairs have been reported in the last few weeks.
So many parts of this story will make you say, “Wait, what?” Don’t bother asking. You will find no answers here.
PARIS, July 5.—All the prisoners at Nogent le Rotrou had access to the kitchen, where they could help themselves to any one of three butcher knives for purposes of offense should it ever happen that they wished to escape from their pleasant quarters. There were only two warders, and on Sundays, as one had a day off, there was only one. When it came to the matter of getting through the prison gates there was only a piece of wire to untwist, and the watchdog, Alphonse, to avoid. And the truth about Alphonse was that, while he barked at the prison inspectors and magistrates, he knew all the prisoners so well that he was on the friendliest terms with them.
For years it had happened that no prisoner had ever wanted to escape from so pleasant a home. Then Hippolyte Joseph Royer was convicted of some small crime and sent to Nogent le Routrou. It irked Hippolyte. He was a farm worker and he didn’t like the luxurious idleness of this particular prison.
Now Hippolyte was not exactly a fool; he saw that it was absurdly easy to escape, but he could not understand why all the rest of the score of prisoners did not escape, too. He asked them to join him, but they shook their heads.
Then Hippolyte annexed one of the kitchen knives and waited till the next Sunday, when one of the warders should have his turn to go walking with his best girl. It was his intention just to brandish the knife at the other warder, and perhaps practice a kind of Jack Dempsey punch if he proved obstinate.
But unfortunately the warder, conscious of his dignity as the sole custodian of the jail, resented the idea that one of his charges should try to escape. There was a struggle, and the kitchen knife slipped into the warder with such effect that he might have been seriously hurt had not two of the other prisoners come to his rescue and called off Hippolyte in the midst of his unsportsmanlike work. While they attended to the warder, Hippolyte took to his heels. He knew that the prison would not be so agreeable a place after he had been so unfriendly to the warder, so he quietly untwisted the piece of wire that held the prison door and walked out into the sunshine.
Night fell. Hippolyte was far from home, and he had no money. Regretfully he thought of the prison, and that helped to remind him of something. What a fool he had been to depart without helping himself to some of the prison funds, which he knew were kept in a drawer of the kitchen table! No sooner thoughtt han done. Hippolyte started back toward the prison. The warder who had been having a day off was sleeping peacefully, and Alphonse was glad to welcome back his old friend Hippolyte. So he once more untwisted the wire that held the door and from the kitchen drawer withdrew more than 500 francs and the identity papers of another prisoner. Softly he stole again into the night and went to buy drinks with the prison funds.
Unfortunately for his career, he was recognized and arrested three days later, and today he stood his trial for having broken jail and attempted to murder the warder. The trial took place at Nogent le Rotrou, near Echartres, where this remarkable prison is, and judgment was rendered by a jury worthy of the place. Five questions were put to the jury, and the first three were answered satisfactorily. Then in a solemn voice the Judge submitted the fourth question for pronouncement: “Is Hippolyte Royer guilty of having attempted murder?”
“No,” was the jury’s unanimous reply.
The Judge looked at the jurors and frowned, but he did not stop. He had another question ready.
“Was that attempt to murder premeditated?” he demanded.
“Yes,” declared the jury as solemnly; and they are still wondering at Nogent le Rotrou why several membrers of the court, and the prisoner as well, laughed loud and long, and why all the newspaper men have written accounts of the affair in their best imitation of Guy de Maupassant.